More than two-thirds of Horry County residents have immunity to COVID-19, gaining antibodies either through vaccination or contracting the disease itself, according to new estimates from the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC).
Around 69% of Horry County residents are immune to the coronavirus, MUSC data says. Vaccinated people make up 44.5% of the county’s population, while another 24.8% have “natural immunity,” meaning they have gotten COVID-19 and have built up antibodies through infection. Horry ranks fifth in the state for its percentage of residents with immunity.
The numbers are promising, according to Dr. Gerald Harmon, vice president of medical affairs at Tidelands Health.
But, he said, there are a few things to keep in mind when analyzing that number. For example, people who have natural immunity shouldn’t write off the possibility of getting vaccinated, he said, even though they have antibodies.
“Don’t forego vaccination just because you said, ‘hey, I had COVID last year,’” he said.
Across South Carolina, 65% of residents have COVID-19 immunity, MUSC data says, with around 37% vaccinated and around 28% having natural immunity.
Nearly three-quarters of Georgetown County residents have COVID-19 immunity, behind only McCormick County at 80%, according to MUSC.
Vaccination rates in Horry and Georgetown counties are both in the top five, with Georgetown second in the state and Horry ranking fourth, according to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control. Harmon said the Grand Strand’s older population could help explain the vaccination rates in these two counties, since people 65 and older were among the first eligible for the vaccine.
The percentage of immunized people needed to reach herd immunity and minimize the virus’ spread varies by disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But Harmon said 80% immunization is a figure to look toward, just 11 percentage points from where Horry County was this week.
“That would be a pretty good goal if we can get 80% of the community immunized,” he said. “That’s a pretty substantial target by anybody’s measure.”
Even with “impressive” immunization numbers, Harmon said the goal is still to get more people in the area vaccinated.
“My job as a healthcare physician, I’ve got to get out there and I’ve got to distribute accurate, reliable, trusted data,” he said. “I need to convince them that this is a safe, appropriate, well-studied vaccine for all of us to receive.”
The vaccine brand Pfizer has asked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for emergency approval to use the vaccine on children 12-16, which would push the area closer to the ideal 80% immunization rate, Harmon said.
To find a COVID-19 vaccine site near you, visit https://vaxlocator.dhec.sc.gov/ or call 1-866-365-8110.